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PhD funded studentship in ‘Climate variability and disease in early modern eastern England’

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Climate variability and extreme weather can be a direct or indirect contributor to epidemics. While a growing body of scholarship has connected past variations in climatic conditions with the incidence, spread and severity of disease, many analyses have taken place only at the very local or large-scale level, or make use of historical datasets that are characterised by fundamental flaws and biases. The nature of causality in climate-epidemic relationships is also poorly understood; this creates uncertainties in areas susceptible to large-scale epidemics today, where data availability is constrained by short instrumental records of climate variability or fragmented institutional records of disease and its impacts. Recourse to long records of climate and disease is therefore essential to inform current environmental and societal challenges around public health.

This project will examine the central hypothesis that certain types of climatic change and variability, such as drought, floods, excessive heat or precipitation, and longer-term temperature change, are linked with different patterns of disease incidence and severity over a range of timescales in the past. The geographical focus of the project will cover eastern England (Lincolnshire and East Anglia), and the temporal scale of the second millennium CE (likely c. 1500-1800), due to the availability of consistent sources of data within natural and human archives.

To test the project’s hypothesis, the specific objectives are to: (a) develop new, multi-proxy (palaeoclimatic and historical documentary) climatic histories for the focus area(s); (b) examine the association between these climatic histories and disease incidence and severity (as reconstructed by mortality data) using quantitative and/or qualitative methods; (c) identify the mechanisms and pathways through which climate may have affected epidemiological patterns in the past; and (d) situate these findings in the context of alleged climate-health links over recent decades. To achieve these objectives, new and existing palaeoclimatic and documentary records (held within local and regional archives) will be used to reconstruct regional climatic histories and improve knowledge of past climate variability in eastern England. Similar documentary records will be used to expand and improve understanding of historical epidemiological patterns, providing a basis from which to investigate climate-health links over a range of timescales. The suitability of these sources for analysis of past climates and societal responses has been demonstrated in previous works by the supervisors and collaborators (1-5).

This is an interdisciplinary project, spanning both (palaeo)climate and social science. The project has the potential to advance the use of palaeoclimatic and historical archives in understanding epidemiology and to inform current debates on links between climate and public health. The PhD will therefore suit applicants with experience of, or the capacity to develop skills in, interdisciplinary research, which might include a background in Geography, Environmental Science, Environmental or Economic and Social History, or Quantitative Social Sciences.

The project will be hosted in the School of Geography’s flagship research centre, the Lincoln Centre for Water and Planetary Health (LCWPH). The candidate will be supervised by an interdisciplinary team of leading experts in river system science (Professor Mark Macklin, Head of School of Geography, Director of LCWPH), environmental history and historical geography (Dr. Matthew Hannaford, LCWPH and School of Geography), and palaeoecology and biogeography (Dr. Kristen Beck, LCWPH and School of Geography).

Information about LCWPH and Schools of Geography can be found at the following links:

Stipend/Living allowance: £14,553 per annum and all tuition fees covered to UK/EU level.
Start date – 1st February 2019
Duration: 36 months
Reference: COS-SOG-2018-02

How to apply

Applications must comprise: 1-page covering letter, 2-page research proposal, 2-page CV, and be e-mailed to Mrs Fiona Burstow: . Please also complete an on-line application form, which can be accessed via the following link:

Applications accepted until 30th November 2018 or until the post is filled

Interviews are due to be held during December 2018.

Informal enquiries may be made to Dr. Kristen Beck () or Dr. Matthew Hannaford ()


1. Beck. K.K., Fletcher, M-S., Kattel, G., Barry, L., Gadd, P.S., Heijnis, H., Jacobsen, G., & Saunders, K.M. (2018) The indirect response of an aquatic ecosystem to long term climate-driven terrestrial vegetation in a subalpine temperate lake. Journal of Biogeography, 45, 713-725
2. Beck, K.K., Fletcher, M.S., Gadd, P.S., Heijnis, H. & Jacobsen, G. (2017) An early onset of ENSO influence in the extra-tropics of the southwest Pacific inferred from a 14,600 year high resolution multi-proxy record from Paddy’s Lake, northwest Tasmania. Quaternary Science Reviews, 157, 164-175
3. Hannaford, M.J. (2018) Unequal outcomes of weather extremes in early modern Norfolk, England. Paper presented at the World Economic History Congress, 31 July 2017, MIT, Boston
4. Hannaford, M.J., Jones, J.M., & Bigg, G.R. (2015) Early-nineteenth century precipitation reconstructions from ships’ logbooks. The Holocene, 25(2) 379-390
5. Macklin, Mark G., and John Lewin. (2018) River stresses in anthropogenic times: Large-scale global patterns and extended environmental timelines. Progress in Physical Geography: Earth and Environment

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